02 May 2007

On round holes and square pegs

This week I get to participate in one of the most enduring public and political myths--the standardized test. Thousands of citizen-voters believe that exams can tell if a student is learning and if a school is "good." "Good schools" are what everyone wants. Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, moderates, Greens, Independents, etc., they all want "good schools." Since no one has ever bothered to define exactly what a "good school" is, the convenient political solution of "test scores" fills that need and requires no further study or analysis. I love muddle-headedness! I particularly enjoy poorly thought-out answers and knee-jerk responses! I work in an "alternative" school. A silly name, to be sure. We do indeed provide an alternative to the "traditional" high school--smaller classes, more independence, greater accommodations to different learning styles, multiple ways to demonstrate learning, you get the idea. Are we required to administer the state exams? Of course! Do our students do well on them? Typically not. Does this mean they are stupid and we are a shitty school? Of course not. Granted, many of my charges are woefully under-educated despite our best efforts, and I have no doubt that a commitment to higher "standards" would improve things. But such "standards" are arbitrary. Too often, some bureaucrat makes a copy of the Table of Contents of a textbook and declares "here are our standards!" An army of Ph.D.'s in Sacramento can make a list of stuff that a college freshman needs to know to give him a good shot at success in the university setting, but beyond that I'm unconvinced. When this army of "doctors" can tell me what a good citizen is, and how we nurture that, I'll start listening. In the meantime, the taxpayers need to know that millions of their dollars are being flushed down toilets all over California this week. What do you say to that, Ah-nohld?

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